Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

[Automatonophobia] Short Film: The Ventriloquist (2012)

The Ventriloquist - Kevin Spacey Short Film 2012 - Frank & Mr. Higgins
Frank & Mr. Higgins
Frank and Mr. Higgins are a ventriloquist act, but they're not selling out theaters or performing in front of crowds. They are street performers, bantering back and forth on the corner in hopes of scoring a little pocket change from the pedestrians.

Nothing quite so unusual about that. Any downtown district is going to have its fair share of people performing for money. And maybe it's not quite so unusual when Mr. Higgins tries to score Frank a date with Stephanie, the cute coffee girl that he's been crushing on. Maybe Frank is trying to impress her with his skill, or thinks that she will find it endearing. (Never mind the fact that she tells Mr. Higgins that Frank is too old, and says maybe she would rather go out with the dummy instead).

It is, however, slightly more unusual when Mr. Higgins begins to harass a litterbug on the street, continuing on even when things begin to get heated, right up until the point that Frank gets punched in the face. Still, one could force himself to believe that Frank is an ecologically-minded person, and his principals surpass his need for well-being. Perhaps he spoke through Mr. Higgins in an attempt to cut the tension...though it obviously wasn't working.

Things take a left-turn into very unusual, though, when Frank and Mr. Higgins call it quits and head home for the day. The dummy, no longer anywhere near Frank, continues to speak (and move) of his own accord, demanding a better career trajectory and more of an effort on Frank's part. Frank, growing tired of the control his dummy wields over him, breaks down and demands that Mr. Higgins just stop talking. The next morning, it seems that Frank has gotten his wish, and then some. Mr. Higgins is gone, and furthermore, he has taken the cute coffee girl with him.

Without his partner, Frank is despondent and left without a voice. He takes a seat on a public bench to ponder his past, present and future, but when an attractive woman sits next to him, Frank greets her with a smile and symbolically removes his bowtie, shunning the costume that had acted as shackles for so long.

Frank doesn't need Mr. Higgins any longer. Maybe he never did.

Even after we witnessed Mr. Higgins moving about without Frank's assistance, it would have been easy enough to assume that the dummy was just a manifestation of Frank's repressed id. After all, nobody else was around to see it. It might have merely been Frank's imagination as he argued with himself. But the fact that Mr. Higgins was gone the next morning strongly implies that the dummy actually was alive, after all. The only other explanation would be that Frank truly is insane, and in a fugue, disposed of Mr. Higgins and then murdered Stephanie. Frank doesn't appear crazy, though, and it is unlikely that this is the scenario that the filmmaker had in mind. Still, it offers an intriguing alternate view that lends a darker air to the proceedings.

This short film is a brilliant and entertaining piece of cinema. It's no wonder that it won the first Jameson First Shot short film competition that was launched by Trigger Street Productions and Jameson whiskey in 2012. Fledgling filmmakers from the USA, Russia, and South Africa were invited to submit their scripts to the jury, and the winning script from each country was filmed with Kevin Spacey in the starring role. THE VENTRILOQUIST was the American winner, written and directed by Benjamin Leavitt.

Spacey, of course, portrays Frank in the film, and does a remarkable job. The scene where he is shouting at Mr. Higgins to shut up is truly powerful, making it obvious that he is bringing the same intensity to this short film as he would to a big budget Hollywood production. The minor part of Stephanie the coffee girl is played by Erin Cahill, who played the Pink Ranger in the POWER RANGERS TIME FORCE television series.

The other two winners in the 2012 competition were SPIRIT OF A DENTURE (South Africa) about a dentist who finds adventure by treating a pirate suffering from a toothache, and ENVELOPE (Russia) about a man who finds himself wrapped up in political intrigue after receiving a letter from a supposedly-imaginary person—both of which star Kevin Spacey, as well. The celebrity for the 2013 competition was Willem Dafoe, and it has been announced that the 2014 celebrity will be Uma Thurman, so keep an eye out for her films in the near future.

I had the opportunity to ask filmmaker Benjamin Leavitt a few questions via e-mail—the transcript of which will be included in the FREE 'Phobia Zine, available to download here on the first of next month.  In the meantime, click HERE to watch the film at the official Jameson Whiskey Youtube channel.


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